la mère porteuse


Abbé Pierre's "holy anger" drove him to fight for the rights of those "sans-toit," without a roof over their head

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le (la) sans-abri (sahns-ahbree) noun, masculine & feminine
  homeless person

-sans-abri means, literally, "without shelter"
-les sans-abri = the homeless

La mort de l'abbé Pierre, apôtre des sans-abri, bouleverse la France
The death of Abbot Pierre, apostle of the homeless, shatters France

                                 --headline from the journal "l'Orient Le Jour"

Day before yesterday, I watched and listened as the French mourned the death of their favorite personnage: l'Abbé Pierre, voted third greatest Frenchman after Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur.

"Abbot Peter" was the short priest with the long beard, the white-haired legend in the black beret, the former resistance fighter in a dark cape who now clutched a bleached wood cane.

Like his appearance, Abbé Pierre, who once broke his vow of chastity, yielding to the force of desire, was man of contrast. Humble and soft-spoken, he was driven by a "holy anger" and known for his passionate outbursts when speaking for the homeless. He once told Jean-Marie Le Pen to "shut up!" after the president of the National Front implied that all of France's ills stemmed from

His beliefs were sometimes unorthodox as he felt that priests should be able to marry, gays should be able to adopt, and women, to be ordained. Above all, Abbé Pierre believed in the homeless and their unspeakable living conditions; caring for the sans-abri* would be his life's mission.

While President Chirac was said to be bouleversé* by Abbé Pierre's death, it was the thoughtful words of a homeless man that touched the most as I listened to the midday news: "Sa mort, ça me fait plus mal que la morsure du froid," his death, it hurts me more than frostbite."

Frostbite and hunger were on Abbé Pierre's agenda, made famous in 1954 when he stole into a radio station, demanding the microphone. It was a murderous winter for the homeless in Paris and an old woman had just been found frozen to death on the Boulevard de Sebastopol, an eviction notice still in her hand. Reaction to Abbé Pierre's outcry was overwhelming and the French, both rich and poor, responded with blankets, coats, heaters and money as well as rice, pasta, bread, chocolate and canned food. Charlie Chaplin (exiled in Paris at the time and made famous for his character the "Little Tramp") handed over thousands of francs, explaining, "The money belongs to the vagabond I portrayed".

It was in 1949 that Abbé Pierre founded the Emmaus Society with the idea to "travailler avec des pauvres pour des pauvres" to work with the poor for the poor. The poor that followed him were also known as the "Ragpickers" for the junk they collected, organized and now sold in open-to-the-public warehouses throughout France. For this, Abbé Pierre was sometimes referred to as the
"ragpickers' saint".

Activist for the poor for over five decades, at 5:25 a.m. on January 22nd, at the age of 94, Abbe Pierre's light went out when he died in Paris after being admitted to the hospital for a lung infection. The feisty yet humble Frenchman had requested that the following words be written on his tomb: "Il a essayé d'aimer." ("He Tried to Love.")

References: les sans-abri (mf) = the homeless; boulversé(e) = deeply upset

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Hear my daughter, Jackie, pronounce today's word in the following phrase:
La mort de l'abbé Pierre, apôtre des sans-abri, bouleverse la France

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